Mike Stax – San Diego, California – Editor of Ugly Things Magazine, Singer of the Loons
1. I know you were born in the UK, please tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to move to California?
I was born in Watford, but lived all over England, eventually winding up near Leeds. I became interested in ‘60s music as a kid, and by the time I was in my teens I was a rabid fan of bands like the Pretty Things, Yardbirds, Downliners Sect, Them, Stones et al. One night in late 1979 I heard the Crawdaddys on John Peel and was blown away that a new band from California could play ‘60s R&B with such authenticity. I’d been trying to form a band to play that kind of music but couldn’t find people. After getting all the Crawdaddys records I wrote them a fan letter c/o Bomp Records. A few weeks later I received a reply from their singer/guitarist Ron Silva asking if I’d be interested in coming to San Diego and being their bass player. I was 18 years old and had just got out of school. A couple of months later I was on a plane to the States. That was in November 1980.
2. Tell us about your current band the Loons and your future plans?
After playing bass for many years with the Crawdaddys, the Tell-Tale Hearts and the Hoods, I decided I wanted to be the singer and frontman for a change, so I formed the Loons in 1996. We released our first album in 1998, Love’s Dead Leaves, produced by Ebbot Lundborg of Soundtrack of our Lives. There were a few lineup changes after that, but for the last ten years or so it’s been me, Anja Dixson (bass), Marc Schroeder (guitar), Chris Marsteller (guitar) and Mike Kamoo (drums). Our most recent album, Red Dissolving Rays of Light, was released by Bomp in 2010. We have a new album about two-thirds completed and hope to get that released in early 2013, and maybe play in Europe again then.
3. When did Ugly Things magazine start and why?
In March of 2013 it’ll have been 30 years since the first issue. I started Ugly Things in 1983 because I wanted to spread the word about all the great ‘60s era bands that seemed to have been ignored by most of the world – bands like the Pretty Things, Q65, the Outsiders, the Seeds, the Monks and the Music Machine, to name just a few.
4. What was your favourite edition and why?
My favourite edition is always the one I’m working on, because that’s the one all my passion is wrapped up in. Plus it’s a case of always trying to make each issue better than last. But if I had to pick a personal favourite in might be Issue 13, which had a huge story on the Birds. I really enjoyed interviewing Kim Gardner, Tony Munroe and Ali McKenzie. They really opened up to me, as well as sharing many great photos and clippings from their scrapbooks. I was really proud with how the story turned out. Looking at this issue brings back some great memories for me—sad ones too as Kim is now gone. The last issue (#32) with my interview with Johnny Echols of Love is also one of my favourites.
5. It’s well documented that your favourite band is the Pretty Things, what is about the Pretty Things that make them your seminal band?
The Pretty Things embody everything that is cool and exciting about the bands and the music of the ‘60s, and rock & roll in general. There was purity to everything they did—they never seemed to be motivated by ego or a hunger for fame, they just sort of let things happen and didn’t care about the consequences. They’re still the same way, and that’s inspiring to me. There’s no compromise at all in their music, be it the early raw R&B records, the psychedelic stuff, or the more progressive records that followed. There were few other bands that could master all of those forms so definitively. There’s something about their image, their lifestyle, their attitude and their whole approach to creating music that I can identify with absolutely,
6. When did the very useful 60’s compilation database start on the Ugly Things website and why?
The Searchin’ for Shakes database was started by Menachem Turchick in the late ‘90s and has been a part of the Ugly Things website ever since. It’s an amazing resource for ‘60s fans because you can cross-reference thousands of tracks, bands, and compilations, along with info about original release dates, labels, etc.
7. There is a phenomenal amount of record reviews in each issue for example along with a big team of authors, how long does it take to complete each issue?
We publish the mag twice a year, and it takes 5-6 months to complete each issue. As soon as I send an issue to the printer, I’m already starting work on the next one.
8. I enjoyed the Misunderstood story immensely anything similar in the pipeline?
I’m pleased you enjoyed the Misunderstood story so much. It was a huge undertaking. I spent about four or five years researching that one, interviewing all the band members along with dozens of other people who were associated with them. I was living and breathing the Misunderstood every day, logging hours of long distance phone interviews to New Zealand and the UK, and even traveling to Thailand to interview Rick Brown, as well as making numerous road trips to the Riverside area to meet with other band members. I don’t have anything else in the pipeline that involves that kind of legwork, but whenever I cover a band I try to do it as definitively as possible.
9. You have met many great musicians from legendary bands through Ugly Things magazine over the years any funny tales you can share with us?
Hanging out with Kim Gardner was always a blast. He’d have me in stitches. It was a bit like being an extra in that Dudley Moore movie, Arthur. It was hard to keep up with him. Any conversation with Sky Saxon was always memorable, too. He was perpetually stoned. He’d go into these long bizarre monologues about saving the dogs so we could save the planet.
10. Any further music related projects like the Philip Debarge & Pretty Things and The Misunderstood albums to follow on the record label in the near future?
Recently I’ve been focusing on seven-inch releases. Last year we did a reissue of the Sloths’ “Makin’ Love” single including a repro of the original sleeve. Next up is the Bees’ “Voices Green and Purple,” which should be out by the end of November 2012, with any luck!
11. Other than the Pretty Things what other old masters have impressed you in recent years?
A couple of years ago Anja and I took our then four-year-old son to see Roky Erickson play an ice cream social for a bunch of 3-7 year old kids. He played about eight songs, including “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and then took questions from the kids. That was one of the most fun and surreal shows ever.
12. What new bands have really grabbed your attention?
I’m really impressed with the Strypes. They’re playing exactly the kind of music that got me excited when I was their age and wound up making me move to the States. There are a lot of other really good bands out there these days though. I love the Frowning Clouds from Australia, the Higher State, of course, and also Paul Messis. There’s a new young band from LA that are really cool, too, called the Shag Rats.
13. You will find Ugly Things in the good London record shops but these are becoming few and far between now. How many issues of the magazine do you produce a year and what is the best way to order a copy?
Ugly Things comes out twice a year. If you can’t find it at your local hip record emporium, order it online at www.ugly-things.com
Ugly Things #34 out November 2012 with the Bees, the Blue Aces, the Haunted, Cyril Jordan on the British Invasion, the Others, the Viletones, Milan the Leather Boy and more.
Cool Yule with your psychotic friends. The Loons at Bar Pink, 3829 30th Street – San Diego, CA 92104 – December 22, 2012.
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